Green Cities 2015: Connect – sustainable cities are connected cities

31 March 2015

Melbourne, “the world’s most liveable city” - According to Economist Intelligence Unit's liveability survey, gave the ideal backdrop for the two day conference focusing on designing cities for people, and their health and wellbeing. With robust discussion about resilience and the impact of green finance there was something for everyone at this year’s conference.

The discussion about Melbourne’s liveability ranking was not just mentioned to upset the Sydneysiders at the conference, but according to Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, “Liveable cities are good for business”, they attract productive people and businesses and help to create a sustainable economy.

However the most liveable city is suffering from a “heat island effect”. The city centre is 5 degrees hotter than the outer suburbs, and this localised temperature increase is causing the city to use more energy for cooling. The city is combatting this issue by planting 3000 trees per year for the next 10 years which is anticipated to reduce the “heat island effect” by 4 degrees.

Cities need love

Larry Beasley, internationally acclaimed urban planner from University of British Columbia, claimed that we need to put love back into our modern cities. A liveable city has a soul. Cities need to stop being exploited as a commodity but rather re-designed with a human perspective. The large scale impacts of buildings can't be taken to chance, there needs to be an investment in local engagement and an aim to meet social needs. Regulation is important; however planning documents can be misconstrued, so collaboration and peer reviews of designs are essential.


Michael Pawlyn from London explained that the solutions to our design problems are all around us we just need to take a closer look at the natural world. One mind blowing example Michael gave was that talented and dedicated engineers spent countless hours designing Japan’s rail system to be one of the world’s most efficient, when they could have just asked a slime mould. When presented with oat flakes arranged in the pattern of Japanese cities around Tokyo, slime moulds construct networks of nutrient-channelling tubes that are extraordinarily similar to the layout of the Japanese rail system.

Michael gave other examples where a lot of time and money could have been saved by looking at the efficient ways that nature solves some of our problems. When Biomimetic were developing their own offices they hired a biologist to join their engineering and architectural design team. The office has a range of innovative design features to maximum natural light and the indoor environment quality.

Productivity research

Prof. Vivian Loftness, Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, described taking advantage of passive design principles as “environmental surfing”. She challenged the audience to design building that “surf for cooling, water, fresh air etc.” She then took the audience through the journey of calculating the triple bottom line payback period of upgrade blinds in an office building. When you consider the financial, environmental and human benefits of the proposed upgrade the payback period dropped from 15 years to 1 year. It was clear from Vivian’s presentation that we need to think beyond just economic payback and about the real reason to upgrade a building- improve the health, productivity and happiness of the buildings occupants.

The research into productivity is still underway and according to Harvey Bernstein from Dodge Data and Analytics building owners need more data that links productivity and healthy buildings. On a residential level however 60% of home owners would pay more for a health home. There were concerns raised about how aware the medical professionals are about the impact that buildings are having on their patient’s health. Doctors are seeing people who have respiratory issues from exposure to mould but are not aware where that mould is growing and that it can be avoided with better building design. The industry needs to assist educating doctors and their patients, so that these issues can be avoided and the true benefits of health buildings can be realised.

Ashak Nathwani, from the University of Sydney, unveiled SAMBA- the desktop package of sensors which measures key IEQ indicators for spatial and temporal sampling throughout a building. The device was tested at the Green Cities conference and as can be seen from the below graph showed the space was not preforming adequately, with the PMV dropping to -3 before lunch. PMV is a measure of thermal comfort and considers air temperature, mean radiant temperature, relative humidity, air speed, metabolic rate, and clothing insulation. Zero is the ideal value. A PMV of -3 implies that 100% of people with be dissatisfied with the comfort in the space. More information about this device

Green Finances

A panel discussion entitled “Show me the money” had attendees on the edge of their seating wanting to learn how investors are valuing green buildings. The discussion was started by Ruben Langbroek from Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB). GRESB assesses the sustainability performance of real estate portfolios (public, private and direct) around the globe. The benchmark is used by institutional investors to engage with their investments with the aim to improve the sustainability performance of their investment portfolio, and the global property sector at large. According to Ruben GRESB makes sustainability performance transparent and actionable this is helping to drive change through responsible investment.

Michael Salvatico, MSCI ESG Research, displayed the latest MSCI research which demonstrates that certified green buildings attract more money and that in Australia there is a ‘Green premium and brown penalty' with poor performance leading to a higher cost of capital. Michael also warned that 30% of Australian property is exposed to climate risk, and investors are taking note.

According to Rowan Griffin of Lend Lease, "The colour of money is green, and it's getting greener.” With the growing demand for transparency from the market, Lend Lease uses a range of reporting schemes including GRESB and CDP. To deliver assurance their shareholders that they are developing responsible buildings Lend Lease uses Green Star for all of their projects. According to Rowan, "We are living in a material world, so know what is material- and report on that transparently”.

Tiernan O’Rourk, of Stockland, took us on the journey of the first Australian Green Bond launch in which on their European road show they managed raise €300 million. As the Green Bonds Certification Standard was not finalised when Stockland launched their bonds, they created their own which involves a minimum of 4 star Green Star ratings for new developments and redevelopments, as well as annual transparency reports to all investors. Stockland’s Green Bonds have since been certified by MSCI and Barclays. So why Green Bonds? For Stockland it provides further diversification of funding sources, resulting in an extended pro forma weighted average debt maturity and a reduction in weighted average cost of debt. Right now Green Bonds is about discounted debt but in the future it will be about much more.

Climate- Savvy Insurance

Believing in Climate Change is no longer the debate- the vast majority of the insurance industry is convinced that climate change is a real and present danger and insurance companies are focused to push up premiums due to the increased severity and frequency of extreme weather conditions. In Australia the number of insurance claims each year has increased exponentially, due to climate change and more buildings being built in high risk areas such as Queensland’s storm prone coastline.

From an insurance perspective “If we want to live there, we need to build for it”, there are currently too many uninsurable buildings being created. Rob Whelan, Insurance Council of Australia, asked Australia to avoid extreme disasters through better buildings, improved codes, planning and preparation.

Adam Davis from KPMG explained that we need to apply a risk inter-connectedness lens over the traditional risk assessment processes, as the most catastrophic risk might not be our immediate risk.

When “Network Theory” is applied, we see that community health could be a more significant risk than sea level rising. Anita Mitchell, Lend Lease, the Barangaroo South Sustainability Manager, launched the Barangaroo South Adaptation & Resilience plan. Anita encouraged everyone to read it, learn from and provide feedback, because when it comes to resilience we need to collaborate and learn together.

Resilience planning, according to Anita is about taking into account the risk and planning for it, and like everything embedding resilience thinking at the beginning of the process is the most cost-effective option.

Read the plan

Conscious Capital – a new way of doing business

Craig Davis from Conscious Capital took us on a journey of humanising the workplace. Firstly he asked the very poignant question – “What's the point of sustainable buildings when the people in them aren't?". He then told us that “Business As Usual” is broken. Profit is to business what breathing is to life- necessary, but not everything. Craig claimed that purpose should be higher than profit for any organisation.

Today people are smarter, more connected and more conscious than ever before, our business models need to reflect this. Craig suggested that successful modern companies focus one: purpose, treating stakeholders as partners, conscious culture (living and breathing company values) and conscious leadership (focusing on emotional intelligence). Learn more about conscious capitalism